Educational MUDs

 
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HaiWolfe



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 2:48 pm    Post subject: Educational MUDs Reply with quote

I made a foray into the realm of educational MUDs via a google search this morning, partly out of curiosity and also because one of my backburner projects is a MUD combining roleplay with historical re-enactment.

I'm wondering whether anyone here has had first-hand experience with educational MUDs (or MOOs, or MUSHes) and can tell about them. What would a typical "session" be like?
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Spazmatic



Joined: 18 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 7:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Educational muds! Dear to my heart, so dear! I want to make kids learn, rawr.

Quote:
I'm wondering whether anyone here has had first-hand experience with educational MUDs (or MOOs, or MUSHes) and can tell about them. What would a typical "session" be like?


Yes to experience. However, I can't give you a typical "session", because, like the entire field of Learning Sciences and Technology (to use the LESTER terminology), educational muds are still changing and develping an identity, like a naughty teenager. Unfortunately, the field is largely relegated to the shadows - because MUDs are now a less prevalent medium for active researchers, amongst other things.

The classic, classic example in the field is MOOSE Crossing, found at http://www.cc.gatech.edu/elc/moose-crossing/. Read the papers, read the examples, become a Ranger. It's a really great place to start.

MOOSE Crossing is notably constructivist in orientation, but I would say that's true of most eduMUDs. After all, if you want to build an ITS, why go multiuser? Thus, most examples out there are constructivist - consider Salt Lake CC's Virtual Writing Center at http://bessie.englab.slcc.edu/.

A more MUD-oriented example is The Builder's Academy. You can find the webpage at http://builderacademy.net/index.html but there's not much there right now. It's basically a place for folks to learn to build, relying on a mix of tutorials, cognitive apprenticeship, and some good ol' fashioned learn-by-doing.

There are less overt educational MUDs as well. Check out Labyrinthus Latinus, the Latin mud, at http://labyrinthus.latinus.imp.ch/. It's mudding in Latin, learn-by-doing.

Unfortunately, I don't think I'm in a position to give any overarching representation of the whole field. I don't even get to attend CSCL 2005. However, this is definitely an interest of mine, and I've worked with some of these people before. My advice is to check out Amy Bruckman's papers for some inspiration (success story and all), then see if you want to push the eduMUD direction.

The field itself is extremely diverse. Those examples alone are very different, and there are others (though I can't seem to find them anymore, oy). There's no single direction, no single overarching mold that dominates the environment. Not yet, anyways.

Anyways, I love it so. For example, I've run experiments on embedding math/logic generation with scaffolding for MUD quests, though it didn't get far. It's really a great direction.
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Molly O'Hara



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually I have sometimes been thinking that a Mud based mainly on historical facts and myths, like some of the Dimensions in my own Mud, might be used to teach highschool kids some history and all-round education. Using somewhat unorthodox methods to attract the attention of the bored kids, letting them have a bit of fun while learning...

Of course the main snag in getting any school to fall for this cute idea would be the genocide, sexual jokes, horny monks, mafia Clans, poisoned daggers, brothels, drugs, contraceptives, Viagra pills, and other inappropriate stuff that we also feature...

But it could be done. With a different concept than hack'n'slash as sole or at least main feature, probably a number of mandatory quests leading them through the world, learning as they get along...

It's really amazing that nobody has done it yet. Or has someone?
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Cornelius



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 9:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Aren't muds the reason most of us didn't do so well in school? I mean hook the kids into these "addictive games" under the guise of education and watch their grades inexplicably suffer.

Incidently my freshmen year of college I had an technical writing teacher use muds to show different ways of telecommunicating ideas. We all logged in to her MOO and participated in a mock board meeting. It was an interesting experiment.
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Alayla



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 10:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Molly O'Hara wrote:
It's really amazing that nobody has done it yet. Or has someone?


There's been a recent article at Gamasutra about teachers using Civilization in their history classes. Not the same thing as a mud, but the idea is there...
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Spazmatic



Joined: 18 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 10:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Using somewhat unorthodox methods to attract the attention of the bored kids, letting them have a bit of fun while learning...


This is definitely true. If you check out some of Bruckman's papers, you'll see quotes from kids who "hate math" but "love programming". Hanging around other kids, building worlds (with math) about leprechauns and hideous pink dragons - that can change someone's life, shockingly.

However...

Quote:
Of course the main snag in getting any school to fall for this cute idea would be the genocide, sexual jokes, horny monks, mafia Clans, poisoned daggers, brothels, drugs, contraceptives, Viagra pills, and other inappropriate stuff that we also feature...


I don't think we (mudding community) necessarily need or even want an official stamp of approval. This is especially true if we don't want to, I don't know, spend the next 15 years running controlled experiments on learning rates. It's nice to have interested teachers, especially as far as getting a community going, but not necessary (in the case of muds).

Quote:
It's really amazing that nobody has done it yet. Or has someone?


Not necessarily in muds, but there has been a lot of projects trying to do this in general. It's hard, though, to build something sufficiently immersive and accurate, but also entertaining. The first part is difficult enough for, say, the digital Rome project (transferring the plastico to digital art). The latter is mind boggling enough for teachers looking to construct accurate simulations of Jamestown. Few really want to do both.

The big success story in "immersion" based gaming (not a mud, in this case) is Oregon Trail, no? A ton of kids have played it in school. I know I did! The fact is, though, that I learned more about adapting to my character's limited firing arcs than about disease on the trail. As depressing as that thought is, you're probably right - it can be done. On a small scale, it shouldn't necessarily be too hard.

The problem arises when defining limits for "accuracy" and "immersion". MUDs are probably better suited to simulate something at the scale of a village than a kingdom, since kingdom events are often a dialogue between centralized government and decentralized people. Even at the village level, though - do we settle for an accurate simulation of the environment, with proper food sources (and harvesting techniques), or do we also need to program the villagers to take care of the harvest? What role do the players play, and is the level of interaction sufficient?

I think, in recent years, the trend (not necessarily in muds) has shifted away from simulating reality towards simulating sandbox cases. Rather than teach "history" by creating a world that's marginally accurate (hard, and questionable usefulness!), try a smaller case. Sit people in the engine room of a certain class of WWII destroyer, with a pretty accurate simulation of the controls and what might go wrong, and set them loose.

Admittedly, this work has mostly been in simulation environments. I'm sure a sufficiently advanced system could facilitate raw, general case immersion induced learning - I'm just not convinced we have the technology to make a good run of it. Plus, I'm always scared of teaching the wrong thing: one famous example is the kid who described what he learned from Sim City as, "Taxes cause riots."

Anyways, to be honest, the historical accuracy of even the most historically accurate mud... generally leaves a lot to be desired. I haven't played 4D, though, so I don't know about your period dimensions!

Quote:
Incidently my freshmen year of college I had an technical writing teacher use muds to show different ways of telecommunicating ideas. We all logged in to her MOO and participated in a mock board meeting. It was an interesting experiment.


Still popular. There are variants which use more advanced multiuser systems to creative collaborative environments for everything from computer science to math to writing. There's some interesting stuff out there, but unfortunately, it's generally either a mud developer who doesn't know his or her pedagogy, or an educational technologies researcher who doesn't know his or her muds. Very Happy

Quote:
There's been a recent article at Gamasutra about teachers using Civilization in their history classes. Not the same thing as a mud, but the idea is there...


That idea scares me. Then again, I know military history teachers that regard Third Reich as the best possible simulation environment.
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Alayla



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 10:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
That idea scares me. Then again, I know military history teachers that regard Third Reich as the best possible simulation environment.


To be honest, it scares me as well. I was just giving it as an example that some teachers are willing to use computer games as an alternative to textbooks. And they do claim they encourage students to analyse the game and judge what's historically accurate and what's a concession to gameplay. Whether your usual student is up to such a task is a different question.
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Jaregarde



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 10:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I apologize since this is just slightly off topic, but I was wondering, now that we're talking about educational MUDs, if anyone knows of a MUD in French? I'd love an opportunity to work on my French and have some fun at the same time, but I haven't been able to find such a MUD yet.

I would appreciate any suggestions.

Thanks,
Jaregarde
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Alayla



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 10:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A mudconnector search for French muds returns 3 results: MOOFrancais, Multi Mud and Tenebrae. The first one looks most like what you're looking for.
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HaiWolfe



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2005 12:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the links, Spazmatic. I'll definitely be checking some of those out to get an idea of the field, and especially look forward to perusing Amy Bruckman's papers when I have more time later this week. Looks like fascinating stuff.

Molly O'Hara wrote:
Actually I have sometimes been thinking that a Mud based mainly on historical facts and myths, like some of the Dimensions in my own Mud, might be used to teach highschool kids some history and all-round education. It's really amazing that nobody has done it yet. Or has someone?


I don't know whether or not it's been done before, but this is pretty close to one of the aims of my MUD project that I'd mentioned. It's hard to judge at this point how successful it might end up being, but also somewhat exciting if this is indeed heretofore unexplored territory. A cursory search of the internet for historically accurate, text-based simulation hasn't turned up any matches, in any case.
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Jaregarde



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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2005 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alayla wrote:
A mudconnector search for French muds returns 3 results: MOOFrancais, Multi Mud and Tenebrae. The first one looks most like what you're looking for.


Thanks for the suggestion, but unfortunately, I've already tried those and they don't seem to have enough players on at a time for my liking (I checked it again just now: one of them had zero players, another I wasn't able to connect to, and the other had only one player, who had been idle for 7 days). I know people hate it when their MUDs are judged by the number of players, so I'm sorry for being so picky. But I really think that for learning a language, a MUD isn't much more helpful than a textbook unless there are people around with whom to communicate.

Thank you again for the suggestion, though.
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Molly O'Hara



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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2005 7:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Spazmatic wrote: Sun May 22, 2005 10:16 pm
Anyways, to be honest, the historical accuracy of even the most historically accurate mud... generally leaves a lot to be desired. I haven't played 4D, though, so I don't know about your period dimensions!

Well, they are actually pretty accurate, particularly the ancient Greek and Egypt parts, set around 2000 BC, and the Oldwest part, set around 1870. Lots of the details are true to period. Of course, being a Time Travel Mud we also have lots of intentional anachronisms, so it wouldn't work as educational material. It's more like 'A Yankee at King Arthur's Court' - or whatever Twain's story was called in English.

I am not saying our mud would be suitable, just that it COULD be done.

Speaking about French Muds, I think we can all agree at least that we are teaching the kids some English, as an unintended side effect. I know my own English improved a lot from building, and I notice an amazing change in our Romanian players, who seemed almost illiterate when they first came to us.
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Spazmatic



Joined: 18 May 2005
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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2005 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Speaking about French Muds, I think we can all agree at least that we are teaching the kids some English, as an unintended side effect. I know my own English improved a lot from building, and I notice an amazing change in our Romanian players, who seemed almost illiterate when they first came to us.


Yes, as long as the mud's staff and playerbase have a basic of understanding of English too! This is the scary part, really, what with all the "this is a room with a guy with a big sword", "we're not stock but we can't spell" Circle startups out there. However, in general, the unexpected educational side-effects of mudding were my first inspiration to work on educational technologies as a field, and then to consider merging it with my beloved muds. After all, I type faster than I speak, and I definitely put that down to mudding!
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Cenwyc



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Sat May 28, 2005 6:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As a biology teacher I've thought about making a zone that would take players inside a living cell. For instance, players might collect amino acids and bring them to the ribosome room, where they would be assembled into a finished protein, creating an antibody weapon that could be used for fighting off viruses. Etc. There's a lot of potential there to simulate an experience like that of the old sci-fi classic, Fantastic Voyage.
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Falco



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PostPosted: Sun Jul 24, 2005 8:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, as an ancient historian (I mean that I study ancient history, not that I am ancient...yet), I will remind everyone that the majority of human history is unknown. We are still, every single day, learning more and more about past cultures and their history. As a result, making a purely historical MUD that isn't set in a period that contains a wealth of written material from that period forces one to rely on archaeology and the dangerous waters of mythology to understand it. Interpretation of archaeological material is always difficult and compounded by the fact that most aspects of day-to-day life don't translate well over the centuries. For example, most of the customs of a civilization can not be revealed via archaeology alone. Neither can symbolism. Without a written account to work off, and by written account I mean more than mythology/religious works, we're left guessing a lot of the details and extrapolating concepts from what bits and pieces we do have.

Having considered a historical MUD, I ultimately rejected a pure historical setting (gut-wrenching for a historian, trust me) in favor of a theme that relies heavily upon a historical model, yet incorporates its own history (a lot of work of course, but I've got no life) which parallels the real-life version. This also allows the MUD to avoid PCs gaining advantage through knowledge of historical chronology and details of events.

Regardless, any MUD which relies at least in part upon a historical model will likely inspire some player to look up more information on that period, be it the average weight of a longsword or the funerary ceremonies of the Egyptians.

Later,

Falco
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